In the news recently was the sentencing of Orenthal James Simpson, more commonly known as O.J. Simpson. As a defense attorney, what kept striking me was all the talk of the sentencing having been coming for thirteen years. As if Mr. Simpson was finally being brought to justice for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. Not only do I find this troubling, but I do not find it surprising. The notion of “innocent until proven guilty” has been on the decline in this country for some time.
I first realized this at my very first trial. In a trial, there is a process called “jury selection.” This is where attorneys for the State and the Defense have the opportunity to discuss issues of law and fairness with jurors to help decide the most fair and beneficial jury members. Often times the issue of the presumption of innocence comes up during this process. The notion that every person charged with a crime is 100% innocent until the district attorney proves their case beyond a reasonable doubt is often challenged by skeptical jurors. At my first trial, when confronted with this prospect a juror brought up the “O.J. Case,” as he called it. This was of course referring to O.J.’s first trial a decade ago. The juror stated O.J. had committed the murder and that his lawyers played tricks on the jury. My job was to bring the juror back on board with the notion that every person charged with a crime deserves a full and fair trial where the jury waits until the close of evidence to decide whether the State has proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt. This is the only time when a juror is to consider the guilt or innocence of a person charged with a crime.
This fundamental problem in our society is particularly troubling to me, not only as a defense attorney, but as a citizen of this country. O.J. Simpson may be guilty of aggravated robbery, the charge he was sentenced on last a couple of weeks ago, but he was found not guilty of First Degree Murder by a jury of his peers years ago. This is our system, and these are the principles our country was founded on. It is a primary reason why I do the job I do and continue to fight for fundamental rights such as “innocent until proven guilty.”
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